Here’s a line you’re not likely to hear in any other story of college love gone wrong. Smith, a bisexual freshman, tells his worried best friend Stella about her ex-girlfriend: “Dude, you have a fatal-attraction stalker with supernatural powers – you have every right to be freaked out.” Kaboom is the most playful film Gregg Araki has done yet, a comedy shot in crisp bright colors that sends up horror movies and sci-fi, and even toys with Araki’s own constant theme of voracious sexuality.
For most of the film, we wonder whether the strange events surrounding Smith and his friends are real or products of a dreamy imagination. On their sunny California campus, dead bodies vanish; Smith gets IM’s from an underground cult, messages that vanish the next day; men in animal masks terrorize Smith and a mysterious woman he met at a party; Stella’s crazy-eyed girlfriend might really be a witch.
The film gets a kick of energy from the performances. Thomas Dekker (in the photo above, channeling a Jared Leto look) is Smith, lusting for his surfer-dumb roommate, sleeping with a free-spirited blonde woman name London (Juno Temple), devoted to Stella. Haley Bennett makes Stella, a sardonic art student, the perfect sidekick.
As the plot becomes more outrageous, Kaboom plays like a well-made midnight movie. Mysterious Skin revealed a mature Araki, with depth and control. Kaboom is slighter, and is meant to be.
For all its playfulness, though, at times the film feels too cerebral and determined; you can check off the list of genre cliches Araki is tossing in, from space aliens to friends who separate when they know monsters might be lurking. The film might have been more fun if it had embraced its own silliness more.
Kaboom had its U.S. premiere at Sundance and is now on demand as part of Sundance Selects VOD. It opens in theaters Jan. 28th. The film works perfectly at home, 86 minutes that end with an explosive twist you don’t expect from Araki or even from the genres he’s cleverly (sometimes too cleverly) sending up.